Random Thoughts and Musings by moi

Musings by a feisty, opinionated Deaf gal who wants nothing but the best for her community and her people

lundi 30 janvier 2006

Question of the day

I'm not sure what sent me off onto this tangent, but for the past half hour, I've been mulling the question of how the heck ANY deaf person learns how to speak spoken English. It's not like it's the first time I've ever wondered this, but I still don't get it.

Take the word paradigm. Who'd know from looking at it that the g is silent? The Thames River - who'd know that the Brits don't say the th and they say it Taaames? What about Thai being Taai instead of THai? How 'bout the word entourage? I can't describe it properly, but the beginning is aaan, not en, and the final a is very broad. Not obvious from the looks of the word, is it? I vividly recollect Mom correcting me because I'd Gallicized my pronounciation of carafe, which is a French word in origin - butBUTbut it's one of the few that didn't retain its original pronounciation after making its way to English. To speak English, you've gotta know pronounciation rules from the following languages: French, Spanish, British English, a smattering of German, some Native American tongues, as well as plain ole American English. And that's not all. On top of that, you gotta know when to apply what set of rules.

I can still hear the criticism from a childhood speech teacher because I didn't say San Jose properly. I did not make the common mistake of Anglicizing the pronounciation, but I remember resisting the criticism. I did eventually grudgingly pronounce "Hosay" to please the teacher. It wasn't until I was an adult that I realized I was right all along. Y'see, I had had a local accent, and the speech teacher was from somewhere outta state. A few years ago, I was talking with someone who grew up in San Jose and she said everyone said it "sanna ZAY" quickly. That resonated with me, and I realized that's how I'd grown up saying it until I was told I was wrong. The next time I saw my mother, I asked her how she said San Jose, and she gave me the proper Spanish pronounciation of "San Hosay." I simply responded, "No you don't," which sent her into splutters. After said spluttering quieted down, I said, "sanna ZAY," and pointed out that was how she'd said it all my life. The question mark over her head was comically clear, and she started alternating pronounciations to see which sounded more right. After a few minutes, she paused and nodded, saying "sanna ZAY." *nodding my head with satisfaction* I KNEW it.

Pronounciation is not the only issue here - it's more complicated than that. You gotta know which syllable to stress when, and it changes, depending on your tone and on whether you're asking a question or giving an order. The cadence and speed varies from region to region, from the clipped notes of New England to the rolling drawly y'alls of the Deep South to the Midwestern twang.

This whole thing touches upon so many aspects of Deafness and Deafhood, it's unbelievable. At the forefront of my mind is the thought that no matter what is done to or implanted in a non-hearing child, spoken English is never ever going to be fully accessible. This is simply because the non-hearing child will not become hearing; therefore, spoken English is not a language that the child can acquire naturally without barriers. I happen to have a facility for languages, picking up foreign tongues like a sponge, which helps with my understanding of spoken English. My first language was acquired through signs, though, which proves my point. All my languages were possible and made comprehensible first via a solid background in a fully accessible language. My mother, however, insisted on a solid understanding of spoken English, and I am probably one of the best lipreaders I know. I also don't depend on my hearing to understand the spoken word - I do it exclusively via lipreading, which is very unusual among my peers. My abilities wouldn't be possible without first having a solid foundation in a visually accessible mode of communication and secondly being lucky enough to have an innate ability to acquire and use multiple languages. Thus, I would like to posit the idea that the current practice of denying implanted children and some non-implanted children access to American Sign Language is language deprivation, and as such, a form of child abuse.


  • At 20:28, Anonymous Curious Eyes said…

    reminds me of the time I was typing to a CRS operator (yes, way back before VRS) and she said "Sammatayo." took me a minute to figure it out! Luckily the town showed up on Mapquest.

  • At 21:59, Blogger moi said…

    *laugh* Whew.

  • At 06:51, Blogger Mike McConnell said…

    San Mateo, CE?

    For me, I never really missed much on the enunciation. I usually figured everything out on my own. I never really went to speech theraphy often until they realized that I didn't need to be there. I was fine. Just enunciate the "r" a bit more. A in "Rrrrrrrrrrr".. "Arrrrrrrrr"... "Arrrrrrrrrrrrrgh". Soon I was a pirate around the house. Ha. Mother agreed about speech therapy. That was when I was 8 or 9.

  • At 08:41, Anonymous Anonyme said…

    I can't tell if this is a current post or not (the date says January 30th, and today is October 30th), BUT this post is showing in deafread and elisawrites right up on top of the recent posts, so I'm going to answer.

    I suspect from all the parts in your post about sounds and such of words, that you are capable of speaking English when necessary (and of course you might have an excellent English language voice as well, indistinguishable from a hearing person). How did you yourself learn to do so? I'd bet you 10 bucks I can explain it with one common saying: "Practice Makes Perfect".

    I can't ever forget the amount of time and effort I spent, while growing up (and even to today, at 33 years old), having to repeat words and phrases that came up in conversations, until my family or even friends were satisfied with HOW I said it. Certainly it had nothing to do with how it was WRITTEN. English is perhaps the worse language in the world as far as the sounds matching the words, ESPECIALLY here in the United States, where we wonderful rebels slaughter the language even more than our cousins across the pond do. Growing up, I would have to repeat words over and over until I got it right. Especially when I was a kid, sometimes if my mother was unsatisfied, I would have to repeat it correctly 100 times. It sucked to have a former Elementary teacher as a mother, at least when it comes to learning my first language. But, as a result, I speak English well enough that I can get by anywhere, lipreading and speaking. Do I wish I had learned ASL as my first language? Now I do, now that I have been here at Gallaudet for a year and seen how the language is less encumbered by barriers, for us that are deaf. But, after 33 years of sweating and straining the eyeballs, I'm not going to simply STOP understanding English, and sign exclusively. But now I am more like "Hey, you say it YOUR way, and I'll say it MY way; neither of us is more right than the other" when someone tries to correct my English.

    The funniest thing, Moi? ASL is far harder than English.


    P.S. You know you're too familiar with California, when you can translate "Sammatayo" into the California city of "San Mateo" without clarification.

  • At 18:22, Anonymous Anonyme said…

    English is not my first language; Swedish is my first language. And I'm deaf. I have NO idea how I learned English in the first place, with its quirky pronunciations and all. Swedish is pretty much spoken as it's written and vice versa. Easy for me to say.

    Then again, at times, even after 30+ some years on this Earth, I still need to be corrected at times. Last word I had difficulty with: Colonel. My mother corrected me and told me it was 'kernel'. Who knew? Took me 30+ years to learn this! And for the longest time I said Thomas wrong, until I finally learned that Thomas is pronounced Tomas. That was another recent development. 'Course, I haven't been exposed to English all my life.


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